The Duchess Of Sussex Meghan Markle reportedly used a doula during the birth of the royal baby, prompting more women to explore the benefits of having a doula in the room when they’re delivering their child. Doulas are becoming ever more popular as Black women continue to die at disproportionately higher rates during childbirth. Having extra representation in the room can prevent common medical mishaps that health professionals may otherwise overlook.
As we’ve seen, death during childbirth doesn’t discriminate for Black women regardless of socioeconomic status or social class. Champion tennis Serena Williams shared her experience while giving birth and how she had to advocate for herself after doctors refused to check her lungs for blood clots. Shamari Devoe exclusively revealed to us that she too had to advocate for herself when doctors refused to check her cervix while she was pregnant with her twins.
We caught up with Chanel L. Porchia Albert — founder of Ancient Song Doula Services, a reproductive health organization focused on providing resources and full spectrum doula services to women of color and marginalized communities, full spectrum doula, lactation counselor, and Midwifery assistant — informed us the benefits of having a doula.
What is the role of a doula in the birth room?
The role of the doula is to center the voice and autonomy of the birthing person. Providing evidence-based information to make an informed decision about their care and to provide various forms of comfort measures for the birthing person.
When we look at black women and birthing the context is about ensuring that the voice of the pregnant person is not lost or fall on deaf ears. African- American women regardless of education, socio-economic status, or educational level are at a greater risk for complications stemming from varying degrees of institutionalized racism and systemic disregard for the voices of pregnant people and over medicalization of birth.
Overall, the doula is bringing a human rights framework into the birth room to ensure pregnant people voices are heard and push bodily autonomy
Why do you think the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle chose to have a doula in the room with her?
Support. I can’t speak for Meghan but my thought is that with the growing news around traumatic birth experiences, the over medicalization of birth, and understanding how black women and those who are considered to be at advanced maternal age wanted to ensure that she had supportive individuals in her corner to assist in advocating for her needs and autonomy in her own birthing experience to ensure the best birth outcome. Birth has become a commodity that sees the value of motherhood in a heavy rotation of getting someone in and out at the cost of the individual. People want the good birth outcome and the experience that centers the parent and child.
What’s a common medical emergency that happens in the birth room that doulas often catch?
There are varying things that can take place in the birth room that may not be considered a medical emergency but can have lasting effects on the pregnant person such as forced episiotomies, fear-based coercion, over use of medical equipment, not being able to eat and drink in labor, desperation of parent and child at birth. Some of these interventions may be unnecessary and shift to a medical emergency. The doula is there is provide information to make an informed decision about care that centers the voice that is often dismissed in care.
How many Black women use doulas?
Black women are seeking out doulas at a higher rate then ever before. Understanding the complexities of racism and implicit bias within care and wanting to ensure the safety and well-being of themselves and children. Cost continues to be a barrier in that access but organizations like Ancient Song Doula Services, Mamatoto Village, Village Birth Intl, and others across the nation are and have been working to break down barriers to care. Resources like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance where black women can find a list of kindred partners and collaborators within their respective states to ensure they have the educational resources and support when choosing a provider.
How much does a doula cost and how can the average woman get one for free?
On average a doula can cost upwards to $3000 for services. There are various programs and models that specifically centers the voices of Black women and provide culturally relevant care from an evidence-based perspective that are free, low cost, or at a sliding scale basis. You can find that at Ancient Song and others kindred partners and collaborators at the Black Mamas Matter Alliance.